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Reflections from the SwampWannabe Cattle Rancher (Part Two)

Wannabe Cattle Rancher (Part Two)

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

This story is part two of my Wannabe Cattle Rancher story, which first appeared in The Millstone at

Harry’s single horse trailer carrying my new Helsinki Fosbarian cow and calve arrived at my place in Corkery shortly after I got home. My bride was away, so navigating the cows into the barn had to be completed without my spouse’s usual scrupulous attention to detail. I dreamed about revealing our latest acquisition to my bride when she came home. Boy, was she going to be surprised!

My friend Harry found some plywood and placed it around the horse trailer to direct the cows into the barn. The small log barn was divided into two parts, separating the hay from a cattle stall. The cows bolted out of the trailer knocking the plywood barriers over, but they chose to enter the barn of their own volition. I felt like a seasoned cattle rancher wearing my new white cowboy hat. Home, home on the range where the deer and the antelope play.

Upon closer examination, the black cow seemed startled by the trailer ride and made aggressive motions toward me as I reached out to touch her. She looked like the kid who lost a fight on the playground but was scheming on ways to get revenge. Her year-old doe-eyed calf was tentative; however, she eventually approached me when I used a bucket of grain to lure her in. I called the black cow Angus after a friend (he wasn’t black, but he was an Angus), and I named the calf Hendrekka after an aunt who looked like a cow. Hendrekka, the aunt, had passed on. My mind wandered away, wondering how they fit her ample body into a box. Life is full of miracles.

I rechecked a small acre-sized area surrounding the barn for any signs of weakness in the fence. The perimeter included a log pigpen that was about four feet high. I added a single strand of barbed wire along the top of the fence posts to give the fence the Fort Knox look to discourage escape. When I was sure that even Steve McQueen or Papillon couldn’t escape, I opened the barn door, which allowed the cows to go out. I felt free to sit back with Harry, have a coffee and solve world philosophical problems.

Little did I know that my problems were just beginning. My concerns, like Einstein’s, had more to do with physics. How could a large biomass defy the laws of gravity while using force and energy to hurdle herself quickly across a fence? Energy is equal to the mass of the cow times the speed of light squared. Yes, she had tons of energy, and she was fast!

The laws of relativity would conclude that Angus’ relatives were Helsinki Fosbarian cows, the only breed of cow capable of accomplishing these astonishing acts of jumping over any fence.

The cows waited for our return before exiting the barn and entering the fenced area. Angus, the cow, did a quick survey on the enclosure like Papillon would have done before finding the weakest link. Although the fence was six feet high, the pigpen was only four feet tall. Without further adieu, Angus jumped the two walls of the pigsty and was off to the wild blue yonder with Hendrekka following close behind. We tried following them through the bush, but they moved twice as fast as we could. They soon became phantom woodland spirits and disappeared into the ether.

The next day we heard that the cows took a tour of Cavanaugh’s gravel pit and wandered over to a small herd belonging to the Carrolls on Dywer Hill road. Meanwhile, the rumours spread around that we had got into cattle farming. People with cattle know all the other people with cattle. These seasoned ranchers all knew about our delinquent sheep wandering around the countryside. Now they could look forward to runaway cow stories. Who needs to watch soap operas?

Young Carroll brought the cows over and checked on my fencing. He showed me how to raise the fence around the pigpen and told me that cows were herd animals and would look for a herd if they felt alone. I might not have the problem if I had bought another cow. Carroll told me to keep the cows in the barn for a week to get them acclimatized to a new place. He also said my cow was a high jumper. Amazed that my cows could jump his fence and join his cattle in the field, Carroll mused about sending her to the Olympics. He also noted that high jumping was not an admirable trait in cows who required fencing.

After the cows finished their stint in solitary confinement, it was no surprise that they managed to escape Stalag Corkery as easily as Hogan’s heroes evaded the fences of Stalag 13. I felt like Colonel Klink; we had lovely hats but no control over the movements of those under our authority. My confidence in becoming a cowboy like Clint Eastwood was starting to wane.

When I told Carroll Senior that the cows had escaped again, I expected a lecture or a firm rebuke. Instead, he was delighted that life provided him with a new mission. Carroll had been a seargent inWW2 and still had his old uniform. He said the uniform didn’t fit him during his fifties and sixties, but he had lost a lot of weight, and now his uniform fit like a glove. Carroll even had a WW2 helmet. Fate had called him; he was ready to serve his Queen and country. Carroll had an all-terrain vehicle to coordinate the field operations. He said I would have to recruit about 20 volunteers and arm them with hockey sticks. I mentioned that I didn’t have twenty friends but may be able to recruit some teachers from my school in Carp. If I turned the event into a party, they would come. Carroll thought teachers were just about the worst source of a labour pool for practical work. He said if they don’t pass the cattle roundup test, we’ll have to send them back to the farm team. It’s on the farm that people learn to work.

My bride told Carroll that the army had recently allowed armed women on the front lines, so she would ask her friends to join the battle. Carroll just rolled his eyes and said that was a great idea.

Although I’m a rambling man, let’s cut to the chase. We join Carroll dressed in his WW2 uniform out in the fields on the landrover and about twenty male and female volunteers carrying a hockey stick in one hand and a beer in the other. Most were wearing their favourite team hockey sweaters while a few brides with binoculars stayed behind preparing snacks and tea near the house. The cows were pushed up along the only decent fence (Leonard Killeen’s south property line)and were forced down towards Coady Creek, where they stopped and turned around to face the crowd.

Lines of men and women waving their hockey sticks steered the cattle towards the house and the barn. Carroll had divided the recruits into two groups. Those wearing Toronto Maple Leaf sweaters blocked all alternate routes while those wearing Montreal Canadian and Senator sweaters got behind the cows and kept them moving towards the barn. My bride noticed an open upstairs window in the house and 800 mosquitoes hovering around the opening. She left her spot between the tractor shed and the garage to quickly close the window. Before she got back, the cows rushed through the gap in her defensive line and made their way back to the field. The score was cows one, Toronto zero.

Carroll drove up to my bride and said,” A good soldier never leaves her post. We’re going to have to repeat the exercise without any deserters.”

We eventually got the cows back into the barn, where they stayed until midwinter when a bull calf was born to Angus. Daly bought the cow and new calf for $500, a bargain, which left us with Hendrekka for free.

Hendrekka escaped over the fence to Leonard Killeen’s cows in the spring. I made a deal with Leonard to graze the cow until the fall for a hundred dollars. I could now wake up in the morning and not look for runaway cows.

The next time Hendrekka returned to our property, she was cut and wrapped in brown paper packages all tied up in strings. These are a few of my favourite things. Every time we had a meal, it reminded us of our brief journey into the world of cattle farming. I sold my cowboy hat at a garage sale for 50 cents. The guy probably headed for the nearest cattle auction with dreams of being a cowboy.

When I flip hamburgers on the barbecue, I try to make the burgs do the Fosbury Flop before hitting the grill. Watching a Toronto and Montreal hockey game always evokes images of Angus and Hendrekka, my friends waving their hockey sticks, and the wide-open field of dreams that calls out to us all.




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